Labor Day moneymaker: Weekend toll revenue should exceed $2 million for state

DOVER — Is it worth going out of your way and spending a little more time driving to save a few dollars on tolls?

That’s the question many drivers are faced with every day in deciding whether to take Del. 1 and Interstate 95 or other roads.

It was an especially relevant question this weekend, with hundreds of thousands of drivers hitting the roads for the extended Labor Day weekend that ends today. One of the busiest stretches of the year, the Labor Day break typically draws many people to the beaches for one final summer hurrah. Numbers were expected to be down this weekend, however, because of rain that hit the area Saturday.

While the Department of Transportation did not have an estimate of how many drivers might pass through the state’s three main toll plazas, it’s likely the final count will show more than $2 million in toll revenue from Friday to today alone.

Above, drivers pass through the Dover toll plaza on Del. 1. State toll revenue was projected in June to be $194.9 million for the fiscal year that ended this past June 30, an average of about $534,000 a day. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

According to DelDOT, there were about 888,500 toll visits generating $2.4 million over the four-day period surrounding Labor Day weekend in 2016.

That doesn’t mean there were 888,500 cars, however — someone traveling from Elkton, Maryland, to Rehoboth Beach would hit all three toll plazas.

The Newark plaza on I-95 saw the most traffic, with 395,000 cars, while the Del. 1 Dover plaza had 247,900 visitors and the Route 1 Biddles Corner plaza in Middletown recorded 246,600 vehicles passing through.

Friday was the busiest day and Sunday had the lightest traffic, while Saturday and Monday were almost even in toll visits.

There were about 890,200 toll trips in 2015 over Labor Day and 865,000 in 2014. A DelDOT spokesman said lower gas prices were likely the cause of the increase in 2015.

Toll revenue was projected in June to be $194.9 million for the fiscal year that ended this past June 30, an average of about $534,000 a day. Revenue totaled $192.3 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2016.

The money from toll fees goes to the Transportation Trust Fund, which covers DelDOT’s operating expenses, as well as road construction.

The state raised toll costs in 2014, increasing weekend fees from $2 to $3. The hike started Aug. 1 of that year and, according to DelDOT, toll revenue on Route 1 jumped 17.7 percent.

During the week, the toll plazas charge $1. On I-95, meanwhile, the toll for most vehicles is $4 regardless of the day of the week.

According to Google Maps, it takes 58 minutes to travel from Dover to Wilmington. However, for someone intent on avoiding tolls, the travel time is an estimated 72 minutes.

The increased time spent in the car can leave more money in the driver’s wallet, on the other hand. A drive from Dover to Wilmington incurs $2 in toll fees during the week and $6 between 7 p.m. Friday and 11 p.m. Sunday. For a return trip, simply double the cost.

Someone who lives in Dover but works in Wilmington can thus save $20 a week by taking the longer way. Not a bad deal for people who value a little more money over a little more free time.

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